Past Progressive

What is Past Progressive?

The Past Progressive or Past Continuous tense indicates an ongoing action or occurrence that was taking place at some period of time in the past. You can also use the past progressive tense when you want to signify that something was happening before another action interrupted it, or when two actions were ongoing at the same moment during a past time.

The following is the formula or structure when using the past progressive tense:

Subject + Was/were + present participle form of the verb (-ing form) + the rest of the sentence

Here are some examples of the past progressive tense in sentences:

  • We were playing in the field when heavy rain fell.
  • Dad was preparing dinner when Mom called.
  • I was adding some color to my drawing yesterday afternoon.
  • His family was running a ramen shop last year.
  • Trixie was enjoying her coffee before Nikkia arrived.

Past Progressive Uses and Rules

In this segment, we will study two tables pertaining to the past progressive tense. First, let’s take a look at its uses in language:

Past Ongoing EventsActions that progressed for a past period of time.Bea was riding a bicycle.
Background eventsSecondary events that were taking place behind the scenes of the main events.Pedro was texting his mom when the principal announced his name.
ReasonsContexts or reasons behind events or actions.They were causing a scene so someone called the police.
Adverbs of FrequencyThe past progressive is used to describe recurring events that are typically used with frequency adverbs such as always, forever, constantly, etc. In this case, the adverb is placed after the helping or auxiliary verb (was/were) and before the present participle (-ing). These sentences are commonly used to express annoyance or describe unexpected happenings.Heidi was always complaining about something so I cut her off.
Table for Past Progressive Uses and Rules

Now let’s take a look at the rules when using the past progressive in different sentence structures:

Sentence StructureFormulaExample
AffirmativeSubject + Was/were + Present participle (verb + ing) + Object (or the rest of the sentence)Bara was writing a complaint to his landlord.
NegativeSubject + Wasn’t/Weren’t + Present participle (verb + ing) + Object (or the rest of the sentence)Jin Hyung and Moonji weren’t studying in the gazebo.
Interrogative (affirmative)Was/Were + Subject + Present participle form (verb + ing) + rest of the sentence?Was Watanabe moving the furniture around?
Interrogative (negative)Wasn’t/Weren’t + Subject + Been + Present participle (verb + ing) + rest of the sentence?Wasn’t Yuki making sandwiches for everybody?
Interrogative with Question WordQuestion word + Was/were + Subject (at times unnecessary with the question word “who”) + Present participle (verb + ing) + rest of the sentence?What were the team members discussing in the locker room?
Table for Past Progressive Formulas
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Examples of Past Progressive Verbs

1. Affirmative Sentence

  • It was raining cats and dogs all week.
  • Last weekend, I was preparing for today’s quiz.
  • Xyrus and his friends were riding their motorbikes in the dunes.
  • No, we were studying different majors.
  • Rickie was picking fashion options for the ad campaign.

2. Negative Sentence

  • They weren’t auctioning the Egyptian collection.
  • Javier wasn’t recording the video meeting as he should have.
  • We weren’t being productive during the break.
  • Claude wasn’t paying attention to Ms. Raymundo’s lecture.
  • Siobhan’s kids weren’t listening to her at the park.

3. Interrogative (affirmative)

  • Was she staying with you?
  • Was Alona washing the planters from the storage room?
  • Was Mica eating with his secret girlfriend?
  • Were they using the software only a couple of times?
  • Was Chaka booking tickets for the concert?

4. Interrogative (negative)

  • Wasn’t Geraldine visiting the day before yesterday?
  • Wasn’t he talking the whole night?
  • Wasn’t Justin studying the book yesterday evening?
  • Weren’t they making reservations for Saturday’s event?
  • Weren’t the foreign guests enjoying their time at the campground?

5. Interrogative with Question Word

  • What were they writing about?
  • Who was dancing at the wedding reception?
  • Why was Celeste selling her pickup truck?
  • Why were the dogs howling last night?
  • Where were they playing their loud music?

Past Progressive Exercises with Answers

Exercise on Past Progressive

Change the verbs in parentheses into their correct past progressive form to complete the sentences.

1. When I called Jin, he (take) ____________________ a shower.

2. The neighborhood kids (feed) ____________________ a stray cat when I passed by.

3. What (you/do) ____________________ at the port last night?

4. They (rehearse) ____________________ their dance routine when Min Jung collapsed.

5. I think I (get) ____________________ ready for the concert at 5 pm yesterday.

6. We (not/disturb) ____________________ the investigation.

7. Their band members (wait) ____________________ for their manager.

8. Kenneth tried to explain but his friends (not/listen) ____________________ to him.

9. While I was getting a massage, my cousins (swim) ____________________ in the pool.

10. Who (they/speak) ____________________ to at the bureau last week?


1. When I called Jin, he was taking a shower.

2. The neighborhood kids were feeding a stray cat when I passed by.

3. What were you doing at the port last night?

4. They were rehearsing their dance routine when Min Jung collapsed.

5. I think I was getting ready for the concert at 5 pm yesterday.

6. We weren’t disturbing the investigation.

7. Their band members were waiting for their manager.

8. Kenneth tried to explain but his friends weren’t listening to him.

9. While I was getting a massage, my cousins were swimming in the pool.

10. Who were they speaking to at the bureau last week?

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Past Progressive List

Here is a list of examples of the past progressive tense according to its usage:

1. Events ongoing in the past

  • Soksam was hailing a cab a while ago.
  • The officers were running late for the review.
  • They were prepping the ingredients on the kitchen counter.
  • I was calling you at lunch but I guess you were busy.
  • We were watching a film at their outdoor theater.

2. Background events

  • We were swimming when we heard someone yell “Shark!”.
  • Zenaida was taking the trash out when we pulled up to her driveway.
  • They weren’t scrolling through the app when they found the pictures.
  • Jennifer was hiking in the woods when she found the abandoned cabin.
  • My employees were shuffling papers when the client showed up.

3. Reasons or contexts for events

  • The kids were jumping on the bed so it broke.
  • Sorry, I couldn’t answer sooner, I was wrapping up an interview.
  • They were traveling on a motorcycle for hours so their backs hurt.
  • Lyle was being difficult on purpose that’s why Johnny left.
  • Benito’s lawyer wasn’t coordinating with him well which is why he fired her.

4. Recurring, unlikeable or accidental events (with frequency adverbs)

  • Tatu was repeatedly knocking on the front door.
  • Lucas was forever complaining about his coworkers.
  • Arbo was always cleaning up after his guests.
  • She was constantly belittling her husband in front of people.
  • Naty was always borrowing money from her friends.

Advice for ESL Students & English Language Learners

Studying tenses can be a confusing endeavor. First, you need to accomplish a certain level of proficiency in understanding tenses. Tenses are verb forms that describe actions, events, states of being, or conditions in various time frames. The principal types of tenses are present, simple, and future tenses. Additionally, each type is further classified into 4 aspects: simple tense, continuous or progressive tense, perfect tense, and perfect continuous or perfect progressive tense. Without including the moods (indicative, imperative, and subjunctive), there is a total of 12 tenses in English. Verbs may look similar, but each conjugation follows specific grammatical rules. A strong grasp of the tenses’ individual functions is important to reduce confusion and ultimately eliminate it. 

The proper use of tenses allows you to express your thoughts clearly as each tense takes a meaning that’s distinguishable from the rest. For example, the sentences “I am eating a banana”, “I ate a banana”, and “I will eat a banana” have distinctive meanings. First, “am eating” describes an action that is currently in progress. Second, “ate” expresses an action that has been completed. Lastly, “will eat” refers to an action that has yet to occur.

As mentioned, there’s a total of 12 verb tenses in the English language. But in reality, only 4 tenses are commonly utilized in general speech or conversational English. These are the 3 simple tenses (simple present, simple past, and simple future) and the present continuous tense. This isn’t to say that the 8 other tenses are useless. Studying them is useful for language requirements that require advanced English such as language tasks in academic and professional settings. 

Additionally, it is important for learners to properly understand simple past, simple future and future progressive.

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Common Errors Made by English Learners

With tenses, most English language learners make errors in form. The main reasons for this are first, they’re translating directly from their native language (some languages don’t change forms regardless of tense); second, they have made a language habit that’s grammatically wrong. Take a look at the following errors so that you can avoid making them.

Common ErrorsCorrect FormReason
I making notes for him two hours ago.I was making notes for him two hours ago.The correct form of the past progressive is was/were + verb (-ing).
What did he saying at the club?What was he saying at the club?The correct form of the past progressive in this sentence structure is was/were + subject + verb (-ing).
We were eating croissants every morning.We ate croissants every morning.Use the Past Simple Tense for habits or repeated actions in the past. The past progressive tense is possible when we express annoyance or describe the consequences of a past action (the key is there are two actions involved: one recurring in the past and the resulting action.
They argued when I arrived.They were arguing when I arrived.Use the past continuous when we want to express what was taking place at a specific time in the past before a second past action interrupted it.
Table for Past Progressive Common Errors

Learning Strategies and Best Practices with the Past Progressive Tense

The most effective learning strategies for past progressive tense are:

  • Mastering the basic uses and rules of the past progressive.
  • Regular practice and application of the tense in daily language use.
  • Familiarize yourself with the common errors so you can be aware of the proper forms.
Learning StrategiesExplanation
Language ListsTense lists, tables, and charts put grammatical concepts in the English language in a clear itemized manner. Not only are they extremely useful, but they make invaluable references to complex language concepts. Lists are often stripped down to the essentials of grammar subjects, so they can be easily used for comparisons and review. They are great tools to improve your understanding of tenses and verbs and ultimately advance your writing and speaking fluency in the English language.
Language ExposureLiterary, audio, and video resources where native speakers use English in various contexts, topics, and areas of expertise can help widen your background knowledge and improve your vocabulary. A substantial amount of exposure can help you develop fluency in a significant way. It will help you articulate your thoughts and ideas well, especially where time is involved. Some experts say subconscious consumption of media can also help, but it’s recommended to expose yourself to these resources purposefully. Listen to the way tenses are used and follow how they are utilized. 
Language ExchangeSome English students have become “grammar experts” but they’re still not able to express themselves well when telling stories. The main reason for this is they study English hard, but they rarely speak it. Make an effort to use what you’ve learned in your English classes and self-study sessions. Consistent or regular English interaction is the best way to develop fluency and communication skills. Make an effort to talk to fellow students or English-speaking friends, native or non-native alike. Eventually, you’ll sound more confident and natural, and use English tenses with ease.
Table for Past Progressive Learning Strategies
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Past Progressive Tense Frequently Asked Questions

As detailed in this article, the main structure or formula of the past progressive tense is as follows:

Subject + Was/were + present participle form of the verb (-ing form) + the rest of the sentence (or none).

This is used for the typical affirmative structure of sentences. If you follow it, you’ll be able to make as many simple past progressive tense examples as you can. “I was eating.” is one of the simplest examples of the formula.

Here are 10 sample sentences of the past progressive tense:

1. Wasn’t Mom picking up a few items at the store?
2. Why were you traveling alone last week?
3. The dog was barking all day long.
4. Stella’s helpers weren’t sitting in the backyard.
5. Hobi was annoyed because Steve wasn’t paying attention.
6. Neil was painting his motorbike when a bird pooped on it.
7. Hye Kyoung was staring at the painting for a long time.
8. Why was her five-year-old daughter constantly screaming at the daycare center?
9. The crew wasn’t evaluating the effects of the storm.
10. The students were discussing how they did on their final Maths exam.

Both “has been” and “was” are helping or auxiliary verbs.
“Has been” is the perfect tense form of “have” while “was” is the past tense form of “is”.
We use “has been” with singular subjects in perfect tenses. On the other hand, we use “was” in continuous or progressive tenses.

Learning the main uses of tenses is one step toward learning perfectly. Make use of learning resources like language lists, charts, and tables to master grammar rules. Then, engage in constant practice by writing sentences during your study time and utilizing them in actual conversations and writing.

Past tense is the general term for events, actions, and conditions that happened in the past. The past progressive tense is one of its 4 forms (the other three are simple past, past perfect, and past perfect continuous).

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